Sierra Leone covers 72,300 km˛ or 7.23 million ha of which 5.4 million ha are potentially cultivable. 74 percent of the total area of the country is considered arable land, but only less than 15 percent is currently cropped in any year. There are five ecosystems where farming is practiced in the country. These are Upland, inland Valley Swamp, Mangrove Swamp, Bolilands and Riverine Grassland. These upland agro-ecology represents appoximately 80 percent; and the rest are lowlands with potential for high crop yield under sound management practices. The lowlands comprise 690,000 ha inland swamps, 145,000 ha of natural grass drainage depressions (bolilands), 130,000 of riverine grassland and 20,000 ha of mangrove swamps. The land tenure system in Sierra Leone is of communal/customary ownership and authority for allocation is vested with the traditional local authorities.
Sierra Leone´s climate provides two distinct seasons: a dry season from December to March and a wet season from April to November. Rainfall is abundant, ranging from over 4,000 mm in the West to about 2,000 mm in the North given an annual average of about 3,000 mm for the country. Average mean monthly temperatures rage from 23 to 29 °C. The country has nine major and three minor perennial rivers that can be used for irrigation during the dry season, but are currently not utilized. With a coastal line of about 340 km, the country has important fisheries resources.
Sierr Leone´s economy is largely based on two sectors: agriculture and mining. Both sectors have been declining over the last 2 decades. Presently, in spite of a vast resource endowment, the country is considered, as one of the poorest with a GDP per capita income estimated at about US$139 in 2003, which is less than half of GDP in 1993/94, although it currently contributes only 47 percent. In spite of that, it still employs about 70 percent of the stimated population of five million people.
Crop production is the main sub-sector as it contributes about three-quarters of agricultural value added, with rice holding the dominant position. Agriculture also accounts for over 90 percent of the domestic energy for heating and cooking through the supply of fuel wood.
The agricultural sector grew at an annual rate of about four percent in the 1960s. Research and extension services then functioned will and the counrtry was almost self-sufficeint in rice, its main staple. Growth slowed in the 1970s and performance was very poor in the 1980s. In the the 1990s Sierra Leone was a major food importer. The country is still a net food importer as it produces less than 75 percent of its domestic rice needs. Output and foreign exchange earnings from agriculture diminshed progressively over the years. This situation is related to poor macro-economic, sectoral policies and the war rather than to natural conditions.
The food crop subsector is the major contibutor to the agricultural GDP, althought its contribution declined from about 66 per cent in the early 1980s to about 56 per cent in the latter part of the decade as a direct result of the prolonged civil war. In contrast, the shares of forestry and fisheries rose from 10 per cent to 11 per cent and 27 percent resprectively. The value of exports suffered most from the decline in agriculture. From being as much as 35 per cent of exports in the early 1980s the value dropped to 28 per cent by 1991. A major part of this decline was attributed to the civil war.
Sierra Leone is potential to develop an advanced agriculture sector in the future. The geography, natural conditions, human resources in Sierra Leone are suitable for large scale agricultural production.
A growing population and recovery of incomes in Sierra Leone is causing a rapid increase in the domestic demand for food crops. Demand for food is also increasing in neighboring countries and Sierra Leone should have preferential access to ECOWAS markets. The country already has a very small presence in key international export markets such as coffe, cocoa, kola nut and oil palm which could be increased substantially. The opportunities in the main crops are dscribed below.
Rice is the major crop accounting for 75% of agricultural GDP. Rice output has recovered to 400,000 tonnes in 2003, representing 84% of pre-war production. Per capita consumption of rice amongst the highest sin sub-Saharan African, so current production represents only 60% of total domestic demand (550,000 tonnes). Yields vary between 1.3 tons/ha and 2.5 tons/ha with improved inputs. Local rice fetches a 15% to 20% premium over comparable grades of imported rice. Theseare ooportunities to invest in domestic rice production and in the marketing and processing of domestic riche production by smallholders. The World Bank and FAO have confirmed that Sierra Leone has a comparative advantage in supplying its domestic market.
Oil palm has been an important cash and export crop. Production has rebounded to around 195,000 MT despite the fact that Government plantations are badly neglected, comprising mainly of aged, low yielding trees. The small-scale traditional system relies mainly on wild plants for production. Overall, oil was exported in 2003. There are opportunities o invest in oil palm estates and in the production of palm oil for domestic production and export.
Cocoa and Coffee
Cocoa and Coffee have the potential to become major cash and export crops. Most production (11,000 MT for cocoa and 18,000 MT for coffee in 2003) is under smallholder farming on plots of 1 to 6 ha. Average yields are 410 kg per ha fo cocoa, 390 kg/ha for coffee beans, very low even by African standards. Exports of cocoa were 4,600 tones in 2003 and coffee 2000 tonnes, a fraction of levels in the past. There are opportunities to invest in the rehabilitation of existing plantation or establishing new palntations. With the use of improved technologies that are already avaible in the country, recent FAO projections shows that Sierra Leone should have comparative advantage and compete successfully on international markets. There are opportunities also to participate in the export of these commodities.
Groundnut, Cassava, and Pepper
Cassava has become the second food crop in terms of importance and area cultivated has increased five-fold since 1991. Production stood at 400,000 tonnes in 2003, considerably higher than in the past. Groundnut production doubled between 2001 - 2003 reaching 100,000 tonnes. all three crops have the potential to generate higher net profits compared with rice. There are favourable opportunities in growing all three crops an in their processing.
Fruit and Vegetable
Fruit and Vegetable growing is regaining importance. Between 2000 and 2003 production of plantains averaged 30,000 Mt, citrus fruits 80,000 Mt and mangoes 6,500 Mt respectively. However, these levels are far below levels of demand. There is scope to facilitate the regeneration of the nucleus-estate activity that existed before the war, stimulating also growing by smallholders and in developing the marketing infrastructure for these high value crops.
Livestock contributes 6% of agriculture GDP. Animals are kept mainly in the North. Poultry is the most widely owned form of livestock. Overall, livestock birth rates are low (45%), mortality is high and off take is only 7%. Cattle numbers in 2004 were estimated to be about 100,000 headsm sheeo about 80,000, goats 45,000, and 900,000 poultry. Total domestic production is not sufficient to meet the needs of the growing population which is gradually recovering purchasing power and so consuming more meat. There is scope to invest in animal rearing, slaughter facilities and developing a more efficient marketing chain.
The supply of fertilizer, improved seeds, agrochemicals, animal feeds and veterianry inputs is well below potential demand. The import and distribution of these inputs provides and opportunity for a variety of small and large investors.